Winter on a Montana forest is very quiet. The snow seems to muffle all the activity. Everyone is just as busy, but there is a subdued tone to the office amidst the holidays. Imagine my surprise when everyone was in the office following the New Year. It was nice to have company again, and the activity is exhilarating. January was a big month in lands/special uses. I presented two large projects to our interdisciplinary team specialists including a spring development project. Recently, the water at our local ski hill was found to be contaminated. Surface water was making its way into the groundwater supply. Earlier last fall there was talk of the hill being unable to operate due to the water situation. This establishment is very important to the community. It is an integral part of the local economy. Beloved by students and visitors for its relaxed and friendly atmosphere which embodies the culture of this region. It stands at the heart of the Pioneer Mountains on the Dillon District of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
The hill’s location on Forest land carries with it a responsibility to advocate for the voiceless treasures that also reside there including the recently listed threatened species, White Bark Pine. In our IDT meetings, White Bark Pine proved to raise the greatest questions. National and regional management guidance had yet to be established, and we know that there is White Bark Pine at the highest subalpine elevations. This responsibility and the outstanding questions necessitate a visit to the project area to determine the extent of environmental impact from the proposed action. Since I was most familiar with the project, I joined our botany specialist and wildlife biologist for an off-season excursion up the hill. The heavy snow certainly complicated this trip. On my last visit with my mentor, there was no snow yet and the infrastructure was clearly visible. The difference may well have been an alien planet and thank heaven for our maps. On snowshoes, I led the specialists to the spring location which revealed that the disturbance to wolverines and pines would be negligible. There remain hydrology questions, how will the project affect down stream water users? Are there sensitive plants resting just beneath the snow? Will DEQ and the EPA approve the plans in time for implementation? We await the thaw so we can make our decision deadline of May 1st.
A quick update on our digitizing project. We have pushed the deadline back pending document digitizing criteria. In other words, the files are nearly ready but we need to have the standards for the contractor. As tedious as the project is, the work is for the benefit of posterity. It is a metaphor for all our work. We work to preserve our treasures for those who come after us, even if those treasures are recorded as dusty files.